Letters to MIT Community

Letter to the Community

Thursday, May 28, 2009

With Commencement and Reunions soon upon us, we celebrate the successes of this academic year and prepare for the challenges ahead.

Around the world and in every sector, fundamental economic assumptions have dramatically changed over the last eight months. At MIT, we responded swiftly to the evolving economic downturn. Last November, anticipating a dramatic decline in our endowment’s value, we set out a plan to reduce our $1 billion General Institute Budget by $150 million, or 15%, within two to three years. Thanks to extraordinary work in every MIT unit, we have achieved 5% cuts for Fiscal Year 2010 (FY10), which begins July 1, 2009; some units and departments have already reached or even exceeded the targets set out for them. In addition, we have in place a thoughtful, deliberate process to achieve the full $150 million reduction by FY12.

We can take enormous pride in the ongoing work across the entire Institute to reset our base budget for what may be a protracted period of slow economic growth.

Institute-wide planning
Given the magnitude of the budget reductions required, we must design lasting, sustainable changes in how MIT aligns its resources to its mission. To downsize everything equally would likely pave a path to mediocrity; even this year we asked academic units, in aggregate, to reduce their base budgets by 4.9%, while asking administrative units, in aggregate, to reduce by 8.7%. Our new budgets must provide the financial margin for innovation, while addressing the pressing need to renew our aging infrastructure. MIT in 2019 will not look like MIT today. We must curtail functions and habits that do not accelerate our progress.

To prepare for such difficult decisions, in February, Provost Reif, Chancellor Clay, and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Stone convened the Institute-wide Planning Task Force. They charged this group of almost 200 faculty, students and staff to look beyond the scope of any individual unit, department or School and to design broad, creative strategies to cut expenses and share resources while sustaining MIT’s standards of excellence. The Task Force’s Academic, Administrative, and Student Life subgroups have responded with great energy to the challenge and will soon provide their initial recommendations, with their final report due in October.

Sustaining MIT’s fundamental values
In setting budgetary priorities, MIT’s core mission and values must guide us. The Institute will continue need-blind admission of undergraduates and will meet each undergraduate’s full demonstrated financial need; these commitments actually demand an increase in our financial aid budget, which will rise 10% to $82 million next year. We will continue to renew and develop our world-class faculty. And, we must vigilantly sustain MIT’s unique integration of research and education as the funding prospects for these two intertwined missions change. In all we do, we will maintain our unwavering standards of excellence and continue to develop a culture of inclusion that capitalizes on the strengths of all members of our community.

Not every decision can be made by consensus, but I hope that, as much as possible, we will continue to approach these challenges in the great MIT tradition of practical, collaborative problem solving. We will continue to provide updates as the Institute-wide planning continues.

Positive indicators for the future
In this uncertain time, several measures underscore MIT’s enduring strengths. Eighteen of our students received Rhodes, Marshall and Fulbright honors this year, many more than in any previous year. Applications for undergraduate admission soared 17%. Faculty honors included the Association for Computing Machinery's Turing Award to Barbara Liskov, the National Science Board’s Vannevar Bush Award to Millie Dresselhaus, and the election of 20 faculty members to the National Academies and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Research volume on campus has risen by 6% so far in this fiscal year, the largest annual increase in six years. Contributing to MIT’s vitality, more senior faculty moved to emeritus status than at any time since 1996, giving MIT opportunities for faculty renewal and, in many cases, the added benefit of their continued engagement in teaching and research. Our donors also continue to demonstrate their commitment to MIT, with cash income from gifts down less than 10% from last year at this time, despite the difficult economy.

Even in the midst of unprecedented economic challenge, this has been an enormously successful year on campus, and our longstanding mission and capacities have propelled MIT to the center of the national conversation. President Obama has declared his commitment to “restore science to its rightful place.” He has called on the nation to expand its education and research capacity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and to accelerate the engine of innovation-based economic growth. He calls directly on MIT’s strengths, and we will answer his call.

Thank you for your contributions
I close with a profound expression of gratitude, to the entire MIT community, for all that you have done to inform crucial decisions in this difficult time. Our success depends on distributed leadership – the willingness of individuals across the Institute to lead by example and bring others along. Real sacrifices lie ahead, but I continue to be optimistic that the Institute will emerge stronger, more flexible and better equipped to generate the knowledge and innovations, and the scholars and innovators, the nation and world need now more than ever.


Susan Hockfield


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